I have just published a guest post on The Next Best Book Blog on how I got tattooed in Borneo.
I was in the jungle in Borneo, somewhere, a day’s travel from Kuching – first by car, then by boat up a Conradian river, to an Iban longhouse community. I was on assignment with two French journalists to write and photograph a story on the tattoo traditions of the Iban.
The Iban are an ethnic minority living in Sarawak, Brunei and West Kalimantan on Borneo, former head hunters, but long socially check-mated by national politics, loggers and oil palm companies. And by cheap alcohol.
The young men in the villages we visited knew little about their grandfathers’ tattoos, but they did know a thing or two about getting so drunk in the mornings that the communal space in front of the private long house sections had turned into alcohol graveyards by mid-day. They called the stuff they drank langkau. It was made from rice, and perhaps lighter fuel, judging by its taste.
Well, they say that if you can’t fight them, join them, but I am not a drinker and don’t like having a glass shoved into my face for days on end. Other problems, the usual casualties of alcohol abuse in remote areas, soon manifested. Dark stuff. The booze really was doing damage to this community.
To complicate things, Obama friend and master TV chef Anthony Bourdain, the Donald Trump of cooking, had been to the village the previous year and had given every villager a fistful of cash in return for their cooperation while he shot his culinary reality apocalypse. This had created significant and unrealistic expectations of our little group of poor-ass, underpaid freelance journalists who needed to get the story on the cheap…
Read the full story here.